deep dive

London to Berlin: Private Property and it's Toxicity Towards Rave Culture

Why we need to look towards Germany more than ever.

by Stanley Black
20 October 2015, 3:35pm

The conservative party's innate fear of party culture, combined with a (vested) interest in refusing to tackle the rocketing price of property — and the ensuing hikes in rent — in the capital, has led to London becoming a city where developers are being favoured over both locals and creatives. Spaces which, five, ten, fifteen years ago, would have been used by artists or musicians or writers are being snapped up by the day. London's creative soul is being drained from its grizzled, wracked, ruined and rotting corpse.

In those five, ten, fifteen years, we've seen an exodus taking place. More and more young creatives are swapping East London for East Berlin. Understanding what Berlin is doing right — for creatives and clubbers alike — may hold answers as to what London is doing wrong.

First, let's glance back to 1985 — four years before the second summer of love. Under then PM Margaret Thatcher's orders police nationwide were summoned to violently put an end to a gathering of peaceful, anarchically orientated, attendees of the annual Stonehenge Free Festival.

One year later and with the coercion of tabloid press on hand to help manufacture consent, Thatcher transformed her — and now much of the country's — fear of alternative music culture into law with the 1986 Public Order Act. This was an act which gave free, unambiguous power to authoritarian policing with the protection of property and protection against any "disruption to the life of the community" being prescribed as the rationale/front to what, in truth, was a blatant declaration of war to a culture that challenged the status quo.

Fast-forward eight years to 1994. Acid house, and the aforementioned second summer of love, has been and gone. Rave culture still hangs in there, even if, buy now, it's a bit grubby. Thatcher's successor, John Major, dealt another, even more damaging, blow to the alternative party scene, by passing the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, a law specifically designed to put an end to rave culture. This law very clearly defined the aural features of the particular music in contention: "sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats". The glory days of the large scale rave were over.

Has the UK really fallen out of love with nightclubs?

What affronted the Tories, as much as the drug taking and the alien music, was the notion that such activities were taking place on common land, or worse, on somebody else's property. Raves were infiltrations on private property, Conservatives argued, and as such, they were attacks on the kind of socio-cultural constructs that keep things ticking over nicely for them. The Conservative stance on parties was clear: be it in a Hackney club or a Hampshire field, these type of events weren't to be tolerated.

Cut to the present day. We're facing at least another four and a half years under direct conservative rule. London's venues now face an overwhelming assault from a wide variety of factors. Schemes that have been put in place under the guise of keeping society safe, like unilateral ID scanning, are more like Orwellian devices that, ultimately, are indicative of a government whose perception of culture hasn't seem to have moved much further on than the days of Downton. Draconian policing, and invasive surveillance, as important and damaging as they are, and as central as they may be to the narrative of London's rapidly encroaching death, pale into insignificance when we begin to consider the big, dreaded G: Gentrification.

Some lovely new London housing. We can't wait till the whole city looks as good as this. What a place it'll be.

The influx of developers and the new "local residents" they bring with him, brings to mind the 1986 Public Order Act. That bill interpreted "disruption to the life of the community" (with a very narrow assumption of what constitutes a 'community' and what doesn't) as a broad excuse to literally pull the plug on music/clubs, regardless of club owners' histories and time in the game. The same thing is happening now.

We all know that London rents have rocketed in part to the oligarchs and Arab investors we read about in the Standard on our way back to the box room we rent for the price of a 3 bed detached in a nice part of Manchester. We are, as you'd have to be one of those oligarchs to be unaware of, living in the midst of a housing crisis borne of, or combined with, an abundance of unoccupied homes (despite a chronic housing shortage) and a reluctance to build any more that are genuinely affordable.

In fact the only way that the property crisis in London could get any worse would be if Kirstie Allsopp, daughter of Charles Henry Allsopp — 6th Baron Hindlip, cousin of Cath Kidston and unsurprisingly close pals with current threat to national security, David Cameron, were to become a housing advisor for the Conservative party with further aspirations to become the housing minister through means of becoming a lord... Oh fuck, that's already happening. My bad.

London could be getting a night mayor.

This all means that space in London is, more than it ever has been, to use the cliche, 'hot property'. Developers and landlords are driving out local businesses with dramatic increases in rent prices and the dystopian vision of ubiquitous Wagamamas and new luxury flats is now being realized in every crevice of what was previously known as London. And what does this mean for London clubbing? Death, basically. Luxury flats = creatives are priced out = people leave London = London becomes fiscally richer but culturally poorer. You know all this already. You also know, probably, that it doesn't have to be this way. Let's cock a snook towards Berlin.

Germany's national parliament has managed to halt the rate of unaffordable rent increases with the introduction of a rent cap, protecting tenants on new contracts from having their rent increased by more than 10% above the local average. Another benefit Berlin has is, as Frankfurt is Germany's financial centre, Berlin isn't plagued with the pinstriped city boys who house themselves as centrally as possibly while they're randy young bucks before spreading out into previously 'less attractive' areas as their waistlines and wallets fill out. Which is what we're seeing in London at present.

Although most of Berlin's night clubs are now legally owned, the city's anarchic and underground nature has both formed and been formed by the place's appreciation and use of space for nightlife culture. No better example of this can be found than Atonal festival, which was quite unlike any event that I've attended before.

Set in the vast, vast space of the Kraftwerk factory — a former working power station in Mitte, and now the permanent home of the legendary Tresor club — Atonal's physical home allowed the music — stark, driving techno — breathe, free from the pressures of market forces and shortened licensing hours. It's a festival that, perhaps unintentionally, lays bare the very fabric of Berlin's relationship with private property in both its music and its nightclubs.

In comparison, few venues in London have maintained licensing beyond 5am/6am and it's increasingly unlikely that new venues will be granted them in the future. Despite the Chancellor's new devolution proposals — which appear to provide an economic incentive for councils to now listen to venues and clubs, with the channelling of business rates going directly to local councils (a connection severed by the Thatcher regime) — it's unlikely that anything will change for a long term good. This sentiment has been expressed by many, many people by now, including the ever media friendly Alex Proud, owner of the Proud Group which has established restaurants, galleries and venues throughout the city, who noted in the Daily Telegraph that "developers have money and cozy relationships with government ministers; club owners do not".

Of course, housing isn't the only issue affecting the city's nightlife. Let's do the timewarp again and head back to 2012 when Network Rail — an institution sold off by John Major) — like a pigeon with limited bowel control nestled in the high arches of London Bridge station, forcefully and without proper consultation shut down one of London's most loved clubs, Cable. No regard was given to the many employees nor its cultural contribution to the music scene in London. Those concerns were shunted away in order to make way for redevelopment of the train station above it. A bigger train station's contribution to the local economy as a whole is, of course, much more easily quantified than that of a nightclub.

Calls by resistance groups such as the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), formed to coherently and collectively battle issues of stringent licensing and to represent the UK's 5th biggest industry (totaling at £66bn per annum), seem to be falling on deaf ears. Or ears which are only attuned to the sound of foreign investors and property developers. Unless a change in mentality from the highest echelons of government down to local councils, ordering protection of London's remaining renting culture happens and soon, London's nightlife venues will be completely corroded by the corrosive and bland march of uninhibited market forces. One can only hope that the relative state protections and more punk/anarchic views on property in Berlin will provide that city's venues with enough shelter to weather what may ultimately become a shared storm.